It seems to be new website season at the moment – first Marks and Spencer launch their new content curation and UX focused site and now Nationwide are getting on the bandwagon with their new site which is simple, streamlined, and – happy days! – fully responsive, a fact they’re rightly proud of judging by the current graphic on their homepage showing off this functionality.
I’ll admit I flinched when opening the source code because client side viewstates make me sad (I’m far from being an ASP.net developer but from a selfish SEO code-to-content ratio point of view I’d far prefer having this sort of thing handled server-side so it doesn’t clutter up the page, or at least source ordered to be underneath the content) but after taking a deep breath and hurrying past that things are actually quite pleasant.
Ignoring the homepage for now, since it is basically a branded placeholder promoting the new site design for the time being, I picked a random product page (personal loans) to see how the onsite SEO shapes up. Nationwide have quite sensibly gone for a template-based approach to their pages which is an excellent start and gives a nice, consistent user experience across the site.
Visually everything is great, transforming even the big hero images beautifully between screen sizes while keeping consistent navigation and messaging. There’s a nice solid H1 in place, and while I’m not sure I agree with the use of H2s on the titles of other tabs the rest of the sections on the page are indicated with clear use of proper structured hierarchy which is refreshing to see (admittedly using H3s for the different loan amounts on those lower tabs is again not something would personally go for, with but there’s a not unreasonable argument in favour of it since the loan brackets are in fact subsections of the H2 marked “personal loan rates”).
I weighed in at this point with Phoebe Green, a digital executive on the 4Ps professional services team who handles a lot of our financial clients so has considerable experience in the sector.
“In my opinion the product pages are too content heavy, especially when the tabs are taken into consideration. There are no clear call to action points on these pages, how would I go about enquiring? They have massively overused header tags too, with multiple H1s and 12 pairs of H2s.”
No disagreements here Phoebe – and that’s an excellent point about the call to action. On the other hand, however, Nationwide have clearly taken content curation to heart with their new Guides section which is great for their content proportionality (effectively giving them a big leg up when it comes to visibility under Google Hummingbird) and must do wonders for their conversion rate as well given how well it places them as personal and family banking experts.
Rob Laver, the head of our B2B department (which includes financial, legal, professional services, software and property clients), seems to agree with my verdict:
“The problem with companies in the finance sector isn’t finding content to use, as they are naturally awash with information due to the advisory nature of the industry. Instead, it’s how to utilise the content in a way that’s suitable for both users and search engines.
Nationwide have managed to satisfy this fine balance through the use of guides on their site, which are categorised into friendly snippets for users and then have dedicated landing pages – ideal for search engines.”
Well said Rob – these guides could potentially have been optimised a little better at the copy and content level to boost their traffic capture ability and enhance the brand awareness potential for Nationwide within SERPs but that’s minor quibbling if I’m honest – the commitment to highly readable and good quality content is admirable in itself. Let’s hope they keep the momentum up by aligning their offsite PR strategy with this great stuff to help them grow.
In terms of advanced onsite there’s plenty still to be done – but in fairness by embracing a responsive design, good content curation and a generally sound onsite basics Nationwide have given themselves a very solid platform to build on. Where so many brands go off the rails is trying to bolt on all the bells and whistles to a site that has so many inherent SEO issues that phrases like “lipstick on a pig” start to creep inexorably towards any conversations around things like semantic markup.
Certainly things like rel publisher markup for the guides section would seem to be a no-brainer, although Nationwide have elected to leave their Google Plus profile off the social links in the footer which is an interesting decision, especially given that the profile is generally active and well-managed.
Semantic markup – both for the site templates as a whole (I’m a big fan of the WebPage itemtype within schema.org’s extensive vocabulary of semantic objects) and for elements such as products/services and the content within the guides section would definitely be something to look at more strongly too, in order to further enhance appearance in SERPs.
The critical factor in all this of course is that analytics data should be reviewed to inform additional decisions about the site, especially on the content front (there’s so much you can do these days with tracking for content curation that goes so much further than just pageview and visit duration data, it is heartbreaking how few brands take advantage of it). It would be great to see how in-depth/comprehensive (or not) Nationwide’s tracking plan is – are they keeping an eye on all the factors related to their brand and business objectives, rather than just popping in a one-size-doesn’t-quite-fit-all tracking plan and barrelling ahead?
So, without delving into the possibilities for digital PR away from the Nationwide website itself, what would be this outsider’s perspective on the new site? Does it look like a successful one? I’d say so – reasonably solid markup despite the somewhat messy overuse of header tags, the splitting of content across URLs aside, commitment to responsive design and extensive onsite content curation.
Is the onsite job done yet? Well, not really. Aside from the fact that all onsite optimisation should be a continuous process informed by analytics data, and those call to actions that Phoebe is looking for definitely need some work, there’s plenty of additional work that can be done to build upon these excellent foundations and enhance brand visibility and appearance in SERPs to really make Nationwide stand out in the search arena in the way that such a well-known brand deserves. Let’s hope they don’t rest upon the new site’s laurels for too long and continue to push their digital presence – onwards and upwards, guys – and if they need some ideas let the record show that Rob, Phoebe and I stand at the ready with tea and biscuits to share some more of our thoughts!
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